Deepening Understanding

The challenge of narrowing a vast body of research and knowledge into a semester’s worth of material can be daunting, no matter the field of study. On top of that challenge, the effective instructor endeavors to awaken in students the same type of engagement that enlivens scholars in the field. Application and extension exercises help instructors to go beyond mere transmission of knowledge by adding the depth and inspiration necessary to transform students into scholars. Such exercises additionally equip students with the tools and practice to transfer knowledge, preparing them to flexibly apply what they have learned to diverse real-world situations.

In a lecture course, how do we get every student talking and thinking, not just those who reliably raise their hands? What steps can we take to get students thinking less like students fulfilling a science or history requirement and more like actual scientists or historians? How can we get students to think about applying their learning to new problems and contexts? How might we facilitate learning experiences wherein students discover new knowledge themselves rather than simply imparting knowledge to them? In these videos, featured professors describe strategies they use to deepen students’ understanding of course content.

What does the research say?

  • According to Bransford, helping students to see how experts organize and solve problems may help promote learning.  In addition, emphasizing breadth of knowledge without learning concepts in depth may prevent students from recognizing effective organization of knowledge (2000)
  • Owens & Tanner outline the neural processes that come together in think-pair-share activities to promote learning: from the release of neurotransmitters to the formation of neural networks to support future retrieval of material (2017)  

McKeachie, W., & Svinicki, M. (2013). McKeachie's teaching tips. United Kingdom: Cengage Learning.

Chapter 21 describes how instructors can support the teaching of thinking.  This chapter can be adapted to help instructors think about how deepen student understanding (p. 305-318).